Jan 11 2012
By Ann Davenport
Well, the consensus is in (by consensus I mean a poll of those of us working in the office this winter—very official I know) and it seems that we are experiencing a drought here in Minnesota. Just to confirm my suspicions, I checked in with the folks over at the University of Minnesota and my favorite climatologist, Mark Seeley, to see what they were saying about our unusual winter. Yep—It’s dry and strangely warm….but for more detailed, not to mention interesting information about our Minnesota climate, check out their cool climatology website.
I know that we’ve all enjoyed this warm weather and I certainly haven’t been sad to not be shoveling snow every other minute but the big question looming out there is what does this mean for our gardens???? Here are a few things that I’ve been thinking about.
I think one of the biggest concerns is drought stress on trees and shrubs. We experienced a warm, extended fall and hopefully everyone took advantage of it and kept watering their trees and shrubs up until the very last possible moment. Providing supplemental water going into winter (drought or not) is one of the best ways to arm your trees and shrubs against our harsh winter elements. In our area, the ground is now frozen anywhere from 4-8” in depth. Providing additional water at this point likely won’t help your plants too much, as more is likely to run off than be absorbed. If you do choose to try providing a little more water at this point, make sure to add it very slowly in order to minimize runoff and maximize the amount available to the plant. It’s also not too late to burlap any newly planted evergreens which haven’t had a year or two to become established in the garden. Evergreens are very susceptible to winter burn, caused by a drying out of their needles by the wind. Only time will tell what kind of spring is in store for us but if the drought continues, getting an early start on watering may be necessary once the ground thaws and the new growth begins to appear.
This winter’s lack of snow is another potential issue for the gardens. Snow acts as an insulator for our plants. It helps keep the ground frozen when we experience temperature fluctuations. It prevents heaving as the moisture in the soil expands and contracts, and also provides extra protection for tender perennials. Most of our Zone 4 plants should be able to withstand a winter with little to no snow cover but it is possible that we’ll see more dieback on things this year.
The warmer than normal temperatures may also impact the number of pests we see in the garden. The mild winter may help larger populations of insects whose numbers normally would be diminished by cold winter temperatures survive. Winter certainly isn’t over yet and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find that we still experience some bitterly cold days but will it be enough?
It’s easy to think that all this is doom and gloom for the garden but when I look out at my snow-less landscape, I’m intrigued, amazed, and very excited to see what spring will bring. Plants can be so resilient. They’ve been “going with the flow” forever. It’s us who have a hard time changing. Yes, maybe not all of my plants will make it this year. Of course I’ll be sad for the ones that don’t. But at the same time, I see it as an opportunity to try something new and what gardener isn’t thrilled with the prospect of that!